For a portion of the last 21 years, Lilian Garcia has been WWE's primary ring announcer. She also hosts the Chasing Glory podcast, which recently made its debut on the WWE Network, and her ties with the company go back to 1999.
"They ended up giving me a shot. I came home on Sunday, so they gave me a shot to get on the plane to be able to make it home. I get on the plane and I'm totally so sick. Then, I get home to New York, I get on a plane [Monday] morning to go to Iowa State University, I get the tour, and then I get told at 3:30 in the afternoon, 'By the way, you're replacing Howard Finkel tonight'. 20 minutes before, I get told 'no cue cards with Montezuma's revenge,'" recalled Garcia.
Just as wrestlers sometimes have botches or mistakes, the same can be said for commentators or announcers. With two decades of making ring announcements, Garcia admittedly has made her fair share of announcing errors, and she recalled one of those.
"I don't remember when I made this mistake, but I do remember what it had to do with… I would memorize who I had to announce, and then I would sit down. And while they were having their match, I was memorizing the next match. So, Chris Benoit was in the ring and Chris Jericho was coming up," recalled Garcia. "I introduced Chris [Benoit] in the ring, and then when I went up to say here's your winner, I already had the next match in my mind, so I said 'Chris [Jericho]'. I remember him looking at me going, 'Excuse me?'
"So, luckily on SmackDown, I was doing interviews, and they wrote it into the storyline, where Benoit approaches me and he goes, 'What did you call me?' and just went off on me."
During her first couple of months in WWE, Garcia was strictly a ring announcer, but that changed when Vince McMahon heard her singing the National Anthem before a house show. She talked about transitioning to singing the anthem, and getting praise from the boss for it.
"I didn't really have that much interaction with Vince until I started singing the National Anthem. Kevin Dunn was the one that was a real champ of me being there and giving me - a female - an opportunity in that role. There were a lot of people that thought this wasn't going to work, probably because it's a male-dominated industry. Howard Finkel's a legend. Probably because I wasn't trained, there were a lot of things that were not in my favor," admitted Garcia.
"Kevin Dunn was being that innovative. He saw the future and it was really cool, and I want to say thank you to Kevin Dunn because he changed my life. He was my champion, and he was like, 'It's okay, just learn the stuff. Get better', and I did. I memorized everything. When I started singing the National Anthem, and that was-- I came on board in August of '99. So, I started singing the anthem in February 2000, and that's when I even sang it at WrestleMania that year.
"That was when, all of a sudden, Vince was like, 'I really like this and I'm going to have you do this before every single show because I think this is really going to make you have an impact with the fans, and they're just going to get a little closer to you.' He has a pulse on everything. That man is a genius - he just knows how to make superstars if you listen. You have to really listen to his advice, and he's also a genius in the fact that every single thing that he thinks of will work."
Garcia made her first departure from WWE in 2009 after spending 10 years with the company. She was asked if she had a plan of what she wanted to do outside of WWE.
"No, I left and that was the biggest thing I learned is, you got to have a plan," said Garcia. "I talked to an agent and I was signed, and recently signed, and I thought about Broadway... I got married literally the week right after I left. I left in September. I believe it was the 21st, and then, on the 28th, I was getting married. So, it was from one Monday to another."
After two years away, Garcia then made her full-time return late in 2011 and resumed announcing duties. She discussed what led to her return and what the communication was like between her and WWE.
"So, they had SummerSlam out [in Los Angeles], and I came back in 2011. So now it's SummerSlam 2011, they invite me to the SummerSlam party, which was on the roof of one of the hotels, so it was beautiful," recalled Garcia. "I got to see everybody, and it was so great. Then, Kevin Dunn was there and asked, 'Are you ready to come back yet?' And I-- at this point, I had found out.
"So, we got married in 2009 and found out in 2010 that we couldn't have kids. So now, that plan went out the door, and so when I saw them, I missed them. They were like my family. At that point, I was like, 'No, I love you, thank you.' I didn't even have any intention, and then, until November, he left the door open. And in November of that year, I was getting sad. I was sad not to be part of it. I felt like I had more still to offer, and so I reached out to him, and I was like, 'Hey, so are you serious about this?' And he's like, 'Your timing couldn't be more perfect.' He's like, 'We have Tribute to the Troops coming up and we want you to sing.' The next thing you knew, I was back."
After nearly five years with WWE in her second stint, Garcia again departed the company; this time, in August 2016. However, her reasons for leaving were much different than her previous exit. She talked about what led her to step away and how it became the genesis for her podcast, Chasing Glory.
"That was so hard, and I wasn't intending to leave the company. At this point, I had put 15 years in but I still was okay with staying. I loved it, but then when [my father] got really sick, he told us he had two weeks to three months to live," said Garcia. "It was kind of like, the decision was made and it was okay because I took care of him. And during that time, he's like, 'Lil, I don't want you to sit here and watch me die. What can you be doing next? I feel bad that you're not there anymore.' I was like, 'Well, I had this idea in 2004 for this little show that I thought would be really cool to talk to the superstars'. And it all started with the females.
"I was just so enamored with their stories that they were sharing as we were in the locker room, getting close with one another. I had pitched it to WWE in 2004. This is before Total Divas, all of that, but the timing of it wasn't there. There wasn't really a home - it was just before its time. So, I was like, 'Maybe I'll just do that. I started the podcast in November 2016."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit The Chris Van Vliet Show with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.